The Basics of Poker


The game of poker is played by individuals or groups of people who place bets into a central pot, based on their beliefs about the chances of making a certain hand. While the outcome of any particular hand is largely dependent on chance, long-run expectations are determined by players’ actions chosen on the basis of probability, psychology, and game theory.

The rules of poker vary slightly by jurisdiction, but in general: The dealer shuffles the cards, and then each player places an ante or blind bet before the cards are dealt. The player to the immediate left of the button then cuts the deck, and the dealer deals each player a number of cards (typically five) face up or down, depending on the variant being played.

After the initial deal, a series of betting rounds begins. The players’ hands develop over time, as they discard and draw replacement cards to improve their chances of a high hand. Generally, a higher-ranked hand wins the pot, though occasionally a lower-ranked one does so.

A successful strategy is to use your knowledge of probabilities and pot odds to make intelligent decisions at the table. Cautious play marks you as a weaker player and invites pressure from stronger players, while aggressive play builds big pots. Practice and watch other players to build quick instincts, and learn how to read your opponents’ tells (non-verbal cues like fiddling with chips, wearing a ring, etc.). Beginners must be especially observant of other players’ tells to succeed.